Council approves zoning amendment, despite much opposition

Ordinance would amend district for the Little Pond Overlay

Issues of transparency and the request to expand the 200-foot notification state legislation were raised again at a Nov. 22 council meeting, when Gloucester Township residents voiced their opposition to legislation that would amend the zoning district for the Little Pond Overlay on Chews Landing-Clementon Road.

The ordinance, approved despite the opposition, would allow for mixed-use residential and commercial properties rather than solely commercial properties.

In an interview with The Sun, Mayor David Mayer explained that it was necessary for  council to pass the ordinance because it was part of a larger lawsuit brought by a developer that interfered with agreed upon Fair Share housing plans.

According to Mayer, the developer proposed 100 units of affordable housing to the zoning board in Dec. 2017 and was denied the zoning change. He then sued the township.

“If he didn’t intervene, then that property would be whatever it is today,” Mayer said. “But he intervened, we denied him and he intervened.”

If the developer wins the lawsuit, 100 units of affordable housing are on the line, Mayer noted.

“We didn’t really have much of a choice, to be honest with you.” Mayer added. “… We’re getting townhomes and the commercial property as well.”

The ordinance was originally introduced in July 2020, then reintroduced in April 2021. It went before the planning board for recommendations and back to council for its public hearing.

Multiple residents claimed that they had been unable to access the agenda prior to the morning of the November meeting, so Board Secretary Nancy Power paused the meeting and verified that the agenda had been posted on the Thursday prior, and that she had accessed it over the weekend.

Some residents argued that since they were unable to access the agenda, there was not proper notice given that the public hearing would be on that day.

“… When you disenfranchise people by a continued process, the impact is that people stop showing up,” said Daniele Gelone, referencing previous meetings that were cancelled and postponed.

Township Solicitor David Carlamere argued there had been sufficient notice given regardless of whether the agenda was available online or not.

“I believe [this ordinance] was listed three times before the planning board,” he noted. “This particular ordinance, and the issues for it, were listed for a hearing. When Mr. [Ken] Lechner (Community Developer) puts it down for planning purposes, he then notifies everyone within 200 feet and publishes it in the newspaper.

“If it gets postponed, he lists it again,” Carlamere added. “He advertises again and he also notifies everybody. That happened over four times since the first introduction of this ordinance.”

Carlamere explained that following the planning board’s hearing, Lechner announced that the ordinance would be heard at the Nov. 22 council session.

“The law only requires the notice of everyone in 200 feet and advertising, which has been done,” he said.

“The impact of this is greater than 200 feet,” Gelone responded.

Resident Denise Coyne addressed why the issue mattered to so many people.

“Mr. (Dan) Hutchison, who is on the council and is the liaison to the planning board, said ‘he wouldn’t want apartments in his backyard’,” she said. “’But his backyard was not zoned for that.’ I think his sentiment is echoed by everybody else in this township.

“The problem is, the elected officials keep changing our zoning to allow for high-raised/high density housing to be built on farmland, commercial land and residential property zoned for single family homes,” Coyne added.

“As far as I’m concerned, nobody’s property is safe.”

The council hearing covered a wide range of topics, including the tax benefit of a commercial district, noise and traffic that may be in the area if it were commercial and how the master plan was created in 1999.

Resident Linda Gilch asked, as Coyne had in prior meetings, how to become involved with the economic development meetings and whether the public could attend. Mayer noted that the sessions are run by the nonprofit Economic Development Corporation and minutes are recorded. While they are not currently on the website, residents can request them. The mayor also advised residents who want to be involved that they can submit their resumes to join the nonprofit.

Parent and prospective resident Dina Henry raised the concern that adding 89 new houses would overload the school district, though Gloucester Township Superintendent John Bilodeau later estimated the district would be able to handle an additional 270 students (three kids per 90 houses).

He said he was concerned with the scope of building that is happening and questioned whether sidewalks were being considered in these developments.

Despite resident protests that lasted two out of the three hour meeting, the ordinance was unanimously approved by all council members except Hutchison, who was absent.

The next workshop and council meeting are on Monday, Dec. 13, in the municipal building. The workshop will take place at 6:30 p.m., and the meeting will begin at 7:30. The session will be livestreamed  to YouTube.